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Real Madrid secures record-extending 36th Spanish league title

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Real Madrid has won its record-extending 36th Spanish league title after securing an insurmountable 13-point lead over second-place Girona with four games remaining.

Madrid reclaimed its domestic crown after beating Cadiz 3-0 earlier Saturday, and Barcelona then lost 4-2 at Girona. Only a victory by Barcelona would have stopped Madrid from celebrating.

Madrid also has a chance to add to its unequaled 14 European Cups. Madrid hosts Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Wednesday with their semifinal evenly balanced after a 2-2 first-leg draw in Germany. Either Paris Saint-Germain or Borussia Dortmund will await the winner in the June 1 final.

“We have to put our joy on ice because we have a very important game ahead of us on Wednesday,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said before Barcelona had lost. “We have played a spectacular Spanish league season. We have been very consistent and rarely slipped up. The advantage we have is deserved.

“We have to recover, rest and play our best against Bayern.”

Madrid appeared to be set to against play chaser to reigning champion Barcelona this season after Karim Benzema left in the summer and Courtois and defenders David Alaba and Eder Militao sustained serious leg injuries.

But Jude Bellingham blossomed into a scorer on arrival from Borussia Dortmund. His goals, and leadership in midfielder, combined with the dribbling, speed and goals of Vinícius Júnior put Madrid well ahead of the rest of the league.

Madrid appeared set to again play chaser to defending champion Barcelona this season after Karim Benzema left in the summer and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and defenders David Alaba and Eder Militao sustained serious leg injuries.

But Jude Bellingham blossomed into a scorer on arrival from Borussia Dortmund. His goals, and leadership in midfield, combined with the dribbling, speed and goals of Vinícius Júnior. put Madrid well ahead of the rest of the league.

Madrid has only lost once in 34 rounds so far and beat Barcelona in both league “clasico” matches, as well as dealing Girona a pair of lopsided losses in their two meetings.

BACKUPS SHINE

Ancelotti overhauled his lineup ahead of the decider against Bayern. Center back Nacho Fernández was the only starter from the first leg against Bayern to begin against Cadiz.

Brahim Díaz broke through Cadiz’s defense in the 51st minute at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday when the forward rifled a shot from the edge of the box into the top corner.

Season standout Bellingham tapped in a second goal in the 68th, moments after going on as a substitute to put the result beyond doubt with his 18th league goal of the campaign. Joselu Mato added a third in injury time.

GIRONA IN CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Girona leapfrogged Barcelona and pushed its Catalan rival into third place at 14 points behind Madrid.

Barcelona coach Xavi’s team suffered the double blow of watching Madrid claim the title because of its loss while also letting Girona move ahead into second with its second big win in the Catalan derby this season.

Girona locked up a top-four finish and Champions League berth after opening a 13-point gap over Athletic Bilbao in fifth. It can now deprive Barcelona of a lucrative spot in the Spanish Super Cup if it holds onto second place.

“We had the game under control and then gave it away, and that is a summary of our season,” Xavi said. “The same thing happened in the two games against Madrid and in the other game against Girona, and it is very tough to compete like that. We have to change many things if we want to compete next season.”

Substitute Cristian “Portu” Portugués flipped the game around for Girona. Trailing 2-1 when Portu went on in the 65th, he scored on his first touch. He then set up Miguel Gutiérrez two minutes later before he curled in a second goal to complete a brace in the 74th.

Barcelona's Lamine Yamal had set up Andreas Christensen in the third minute, only for Artem Dovbyk to head in his league-leading 20th goal seconds later for Girona. Yamal then earned a penalty that Robert Lewandowski converted just before halftime.

COURTOIS RETURNS

Courtois was back in goal for his first appearance of the season since suffering two leg injuries. The 31-year-old Belgian tore the ACL in his left knee in August, two days before Madrid’s first game of the season. He then ruptured the meniscus in his right knee in March when he was preparing to come back.

Courtois had little work except for moments before Díaz’s opener when he snuffed out a breakaway by Cadiz striker Chris Ramos.

Ancelotti said Friday that Andriy Lunin, the backup who has excelled in Courtois’ place, will be back in goal for the second leg against Bayern.

Cadiz is struggling to escape the relegation zone and spent most of the match in its area scrambling to clear the ball. The team from southern Spain remained five points from safety.

Also, Real Sociedad beat Las Palmas 2-0 to strengthen its hold on sixth place and a Europa League spot.

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